Under The Knife: Contenders try to stay healthy headed into playoffs

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Since 2004, I've given out the Dick Martin Award, named for the longtime Twins athletic trainer who was a driving force in modernizing the profession. The award goes to the team medical staff that has the best results. Dan Wade has been behind the scenes, tallying up all the DL days and dollars so that we would know who to watch closely over these last couple weeks. Previous winners have shown us that health is a leading indicator for success, which could be very interesting for this year's winner. (Yes, I'm pretty sure I know who it will be.) We'll have a lot more on this once the season ends, but for now, let's stick to the injuries that might decide who goes to October and who wins their fantasy leagues. Powered by Baseball Mobile, on to the injuries:

Catching is inherently risky. It's wasn't as spectacular as Buster Posey's injury, but Cervelli took a nasty hit to the head in a collision at the plate and is now out indefinitely. The Yankees sent him to specialists who are working with him to calm the symptoms and get him in a position to return, but the severity is very concerning. The best-case scenario at this point is that Cervelli is able to return for a couple games at the end of the season and is ready for the playoffs, but there's a chance that he won't make it back. Concussions are nearly impossible to read at any point. Severe ones can clear up and there's really no such thing as a mild one. The symptoms can come and go and while there's a lot of research being done, something that I haven't seen is something that could protect a catcher's head. The mask, as designed, comes off. Obviously, the key thing for a mask would be protection from foul tips, but a small skull cap with cushioned material is easily possible, especially with an advanced material like what All-Star Sports is using. The Yankees have Jesus Montero forced into the catching role, which might actually end up a positive for them offensively.

It doesn't seem like that long ago that I was standing around the Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla. SI's Joe Sheehan and I were wandering the lobby, looking for people to talk to, when a series of huge pitching contracts were signed, with none bigger than Carpenter's multiyear extension. I'll leave it to Joe to talk about the implications and value of the deal, but what I'll focus on is the Tommy John surgery that cost Carpenter a year out of that deal. After shoulder and elbow surgery, Carpenter was a long shot to be anywhere, let alone still pitching at the top of his game in 2013. He's very likely to still be paired with Adam Wainwright, coming off elbow surgery of his own, and that tells you that the Cardinals know how to get pitchers back and that they have a comfort level with their own guys. We still have a long way to go with preventing the kind of injuries that cause multimillion dollar losses.

Once we learned what Beckett had -- a sprained ankle capsule -- and once he got back on a mound, things came together. This isn't the 'normal' sprained ankle that most were guessing and none of the more esoteric things that others were speculating on. Instead, it's something that the Red Sox medical staff could work with to make sure Beckett's body was healing itself properly. The stability of the ankle, we now know, was never really in question. Beckett will be back "this week," though the date is still unclear at deadline. Either a Friday or Saturday start would help the Sox with his confidence and with a rotation that's been shattered by injuries this season.

There were some concerns that Tulowitzki's bursitis was going to be a real problem. Instead, he was in the starting lineup on Tuesday night. Tulowitzki was showing some discomfort, but no real problems with mobility and lateral movement. The Rockies aren't being conservative with Tulowitzki because the problem isn't that serious and because chasing a personal best of 151 games played is important to their team leader. As well, with Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez down, Tulowitzki told Jim Tracy that he wanted to "lead from the front." We'll see how this works out in the long term, but remember how it worked out when the Braves had a similar situation.

Utley will return to the Phillies lineup on Thursday. He's passed all tests, including the required ImPACT test and has shown no symptoms of the concussion for several days. The Phillies are going to be cautious with him, so he may not play full games and may see extra rest over the next week. As much as this is about following the guidelines and best practices, this is also about having a key member of a playoff team ready when they need him.

Better than Willie Mays? No. Jones is having a tough time staying in the lineup this year. He missed part of last week with a mild sprained ankle, but now he's got a sprained thumb. It's not severe, but is enough for the O's to keep him off the field. Jones' availability is one of his strengths and things like this happen. He's put up decent, but not spectacular numbers this season. The problem is that there's been no progress. He's still relatively young and he's had little help in that lineup, but he's beginning to look more like a nice role player rather than a star. Baseball Reference says that the most comparable player to Jones by age and stats is Chili Davis and looking at it, I can see that. Jones is better defensively, to be sure, but it's hardly a bad thing to say that someone's going to have Davis' career. Joe Sheehan once said Garret Anderson and that comparison makes a lot of sense to me.

The Twins aren't sure if Liriano will come back at all this year, but they do have him throwing. This isn't unusual or punitive, as some might think. A pitcher is paid to pitch, and if he can't, the team has to try to keep him moving toward pitching again. Someone like Liriano, who's in limbo -- unable to pitch competitively but short of a surgical intervention -- can often seem stuck in neutral. Teams will often set unrealistic targets and push them, but players often overdo things in rehab anyway. Liriano's shoulder has made some progress, but if he does make it back, it will be in relief and not in key situations. Liriano's going to be an interesting one to watch this offseason, as he could end up a non-tender candidate for a team that's been ravaged by injury in 2011.

Broxton has been shut down and may be done as a Dodger. It's strange to think that this is how it ends, when just a few years ago he was a dominant reliever, going high in almost every fantasy draft. I'm certainly no advocate of prophylactic surgery and the Dodgers have one of the top medical staffs around, but it's this kind of player that could give some team an advantage. Just like the Yankees were willing to take on players coming off Tommy John surgery in the early 2000s, trusting that Mark Littlefield could bring those guys back and get them value, some team could sign pitchers that have "lost it", sign them to creative contracts, and try to rehab them. Some will end up like Brandon Webb, but some will be successes and it wouldn't take much for it to pay off. We'll see if anyone picks up Broxton or my idea in what's going to be a very interesting offseason.

David Ortiz left Tuesday's game before he even batted due to back spasms. He's expected back soon ... J.D. Drew was shifted to the 60-day DL to free up room on the 40-man roster. He can come back on Sept. 18 if his finger is ready ... Brian Wilson threw to live hitters on Tuesday and will do so again on Friday. The team seems inclined to let him come back, though his usage will be limited ... Nelson Cruz was activated, but is not back in the starting lineup. This was expected, though he shouldn't be out much longer ... Logan Morrison is having more tests on his knee and could be out a while ... Shin-Soo Choo is back with the Indians, but not the lineup yet. It could come as early as Thursday ... Andrew Bailey was hit in the face during batting practice, but is fine, aside from having been hit in the face, I mean ... Chris Valaika ruptured his ACL and will need surgery. He'll be very iffy for the start of next season ... So that's what Manny Ramirez is doing these days. Not good ... Erik Bedard could be back in the rotation early next week ... Junichi Tazawa's back from Tommy John surgery. The Sox are using him as something of a proxy for Daisuke Matsuzaka. Few Japanese pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, surprisingly ... Bobby Jenks has a pulmonary embolism and will have to delay back surgery until this clears up ... Joe Blanton is pitching, but he'll need a nerve transposition in his pitching elbow this offseason.